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Full text of "The early history of Elkridge Landing / by Robert Schnepfe Diggs."

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Robert Sehnepfe Biggs 

Required for initiation into I.iaryland 
Beta Chapter of T n u Beta Pi 

I// 2.*/ 51 



Nine and one-half miles from Baltimore on the Baltimore- 
Washington Highway, Elkridge still stands, but in the desolation of its 
departed glory. It is a skeleton of its former self. It was prosperous 
before Baltimore was begun. In its Halcyon days it was the commercial 
rival of Annapolis. Ships from England came up to its docks. The water 
er of the upper Patapseo had been discovered and harnessed, and mills 
grew up along its banks for miles. Boiling roads reached down to the 
busy landing from many directions and over then the tobacco hogsheads 
'-ere handrolled to the ships' sides. These ships that first bore away 
tobacco, later bore also iron ore, lumber, grain and flour. 

Just before the Revolution several things happened to crush 
Elk Ridge. Baltimore came into be in?-: on a more accessible and dependable 
■ater-front. The cargoes went that way. The very tide sensed the futil- 
ity of driving so far inland; turned back before it reached the landing. 
The history of old Elk Ridge since then has been one of abandonment and 


As the Patapsco narrows, "before Baltimore, it turns west- 
ward. It loses its tide in another half-dozen miles, and its brine is 
washed out of it by the sweet waters from its highland reaches. In the 
hteentfi century there were twenty miles of ferreting tides in Patans- 
co. They reached lazily across the flat lands until stopped near the 
mouth of a noble gorge. And just there stood Elk Ridge Landir . 

The history of £lic Ridge Landing :oes back to the founding 
of Howard County itself. Bordered by the rocky profile of the 
Patapsco on the north and by the rich levels of the Pstuxent on the 
south, so situated was Howard County with a history that covered tvro 
centuries and yet it had no historian to cover it. liany have heard 
stories of when this western section of the Mother County, Anne 
Arundel, was erected into Howard -District, but none recorded the 
struggles of the early pioneer settlers who made it that way. 

The Patuxent was known as early as tbe St. Mary's. The 
Patapsco "as first explored by Capt. John Smith who called it the 
Bolus River because its red banks reminded him of "Bole Armoniach" 
which meant a red clay, so colored by iron in the soil, a fact which 
made history in Elkridge later. Up these Rivers and along the blind 
paths, biased by Indian hunters, came the lowland settlers to the 
Ridge of Elks, to build their cabins by the side of the Indian 
wigwams . 

Land grants were made to Charles Carrol (lO,ono acres), 
to Thomas Browne, Benjamin Hood, Richard Snovden, Colonel Henry 
Ridge ly, Richard War field, John Horsey, Col. Edward Dorsey who made 
surveys, all of which was before 1700. A quarter of a century later, 
this whole area was occupied by the sons and grandsons of these 
pioneer surveyors. 


The Ridge of Elks had become the summer resort of fashion. It 
was so popular in fact as to cover the hole territory, from Laurel to 
Elk Ridge Landing, to EHicott City, to Clarksville, and back to Laurel. 

Thomas Browne's sons, Richard Snowden's sons, Colonel Ridgely' s 
grandsons, Richard Warfi eld's grandsons, John Horsey* s grandsons, and 
Col. Edward Dorsey's sons all were located upon the excellent tobacco 
lands of the Ridge. 

In 1683, the Assembly passed "An Act for Advancement of Trade" 
which aimed to encourage the creation of toi ns . principally sea ports for 
trading purposes. 

t the northern terminus of Elk Ridge, overlooking in pictur- 
esque beauty the gorges of the Patapsco on the north, and spreading out to 
the east in a water way which no longer exists, was early erected a T'ort 
of Entry to accomodate the tobacco grovers of upuer Anne Arundel. 

In 1696 the Assembly passed an act - hich caused "4 Rolling 
Roads to be marked and cleared for the Rolling of Tobacco to the Ports 
of Anne Arundel County." This is the origin of the road known today as 
the Rolling Road. 

Saplings and branches of trees were laid on the roads so that 
the hogsheads of tobacco should not get ^tuck in the mud in wet weather, 
and they were called 'corduroy" roads. A strong pole was passed thru 
the center of the hogsheads, leaving ample margin at either end at which 
a man or two could walk. This tobacco was transported thru very hilly 
country, and must have been a very difficult journey. The hogsheads were 
not always moved by man, however, as horses and oxen were often user-. 

The sailors of the ships sent over by London merchants for 
tobacco were required to load it at the door of the shipper, which was 


easy enough at the beginning when each plantation had its own wharf at its 
own door so to speak. 

As colonization increased and new plantations were taken up 
farther inward, away from the navigable rivers, this regulation became an 
increasing hardship, because of the enormous distances over which they 
were obliged to roll tobacco in Maryland. 

The London merchants added their complaints to those of the 
sailors, so in 1727, the Assembly passed an act requiring (under penalty 
of 100 pounds of tobacco) that within five days of receiving a written re- 
ouest all persons paying out tobacco should roll their own hogsheads to a 
convenient landing. 

This lav? relieved the merchants of having their sailors 
gather up and roll the tobacco to their ships from places s onetimes as 
far as twenty-f ive miles from £lk Ridge landing. 

In 173F the Assembly passed a law for erecting a torn at and 
about the landing. The town was to be called Jansen Town to consist of 
forty lots laid out on a tract of thirty acres according to the plan for 
laying out Baltimore town. This town was never laid out but failure to 
do so did not in any way interfere with the trade at 3lk Ridge Landing. 
It is believed that this town was never laid out because the necessary 
water frontage could not be obtained. This sidelight was ftiven by Mr. 
Boswell, an old resident, and present postmaster of Xlkridge. 

Many abuses had crept into the tobacco trade - short weight, 
crumpled leaves, etc. - so that another act was passed in 1747, 

It was entitled "An Act to .Amend the Staple of Tobacco" and 
provided for a wharf, a scales, a warehouse and an inspector at each r>ort 
of entry. At that time it was indeed a "port of entry", for it was a lusty 
rival of iinnapolis. 


In 1763 tliere were 1,695 hogsheads of tobacco, more than 
half the crop in -Anne Arundel County, Inspected at Elk Ridge, end during. 
the Revolution it was at the height of its usefulness. The great 
Northern and Southern Post Road ran through it. Into this highway other 
"roll in- roads" entered. 

Woe unto Elkrldge for the river with its ten- foot channel 
to the bay and its ocean-crosping ships, the very river which made Elk- 
ridge a nlace of importance, began nor-, treacherously, to steal away the 
eminence which it had brought. 

As early as the middle of the 18th century, planters were 
complaining of the river bed filling and the difficulty with which the 
ships made their private landings and that the captains of the same ships, 
no matter how much they ?;ere reprimanded, would throw overboard in it, 
as they came to port, their ballast of sand and the like. 

In 183? a law was massed to "prevent injuring the navigation 
to Baltimore Town and to the Inspection House at Elk Ridge landing on 
Patapsco River." In effect it said, "Mo earth, 3and or dirt was to be 
thrown into or put upon the beach or shore of the Patapsco or any 
navigable branch thereof belo^ high water mark except r-hen secured by 
stone wall or dove-tailed log-pen from washing into the river, under a 
"penalty of five pounds, current money." 

In the meantime the iron industry had been flourishing in the 
vicinity of Elkridge. Iron ores and mines were plentiful along the shores 
of the Patapsco. Consequently, forges and furnaces ber;an to appear, and 
England, to choke the infant industry, of which she was .iealous, offered 
a bounty on all iron imported to the colony. 

In 1719 the Maryland Assembly, to rebuke this childish act 


and to stimulate the iron industry, ordered that a grant of one hundred 
acres should be given to everyone who should erect a forge or furnace 
in Iwaryland. Excellent iron ore mines and forges siirrounded the landing, 
doubtless one result of this act. 

The most important was the development by Caleb Dorsey and 
his brother, &3ward. Mines were opened, forges built, lands ten miles 
in extent were bought or surveyed, furnaces were erected and ships were 
sent laden with the output to the Siglish markets. 

Forges he built were Avalon and further south was Hockley, 
perhaps after the name of his boyhood farm, and a third, Belmont, near his 
home, which altho built in 1738 still stands today. This house was built 
of English brick brought over in his own shin?. The iron business was 
increasing by leans and bounds and his brother built still another forge 
at Curtyss's Creek works. 

The Avalon furnace was the first mill in America to manu- 
facture ten penny nails, the nails used before that time being hammered 
out of wrought iron. 

These old furnaces for producing pig iron were essentially 
crude. They were built of stone and brick, the blast being furnished by 
a curious circular bellows which was operated by a water wheel and very 
little machinery or gearing was used, >- ; o crude v : ere the works that a 
water wheel was necessary for each set of bellows and hammer; often one 
forge building contained several water wheels* 

The Avalon Iron Vtorks was the mast successful of all of 
early Elkridge's works. In it were manufactured iron plates, bars and 
nails. Daring >jhe revolution it manufactured many guns for the defense 
of the country. As late as 1868 a small steamer, the "Great Western", 


plied up the Patapsco, the owners of the works spent a great deal of 
money in straightening and deepening a channel up the river as far as 
B & O's Thomas viaduct. They then purchased a small tug and a number of 
scows for their r r ork. Pig and scrap iron were loaded on the scows at 
Baltimore for Avalon and manufactured iron hauled hack and loaded on 
the scows to be taken to the city. j. n his work was completely broken in 
by a freshet in 1868 which completely destroyed the wharves and channel. 

Prior to the revolution the land so suited to the raising 
of tobacco was bee caning poor and the planters were planning to desert 
their lands for Kentucky and other tobacco lands. Hovever, the advent 
of the Ellicotts showed them by use of fertilizer they could convert 
their lands to wheat fields. Thus the plantations that were once sup- 
plying tobacco to -Jigland benan to supply wheat for neighboring grist 
mills but primarily the mill of Andrew i£Llicott. Another export was added 
to that of Elk Ridge Landing. 

When the Revolution came and with that the English factors 
who had been in charge of the shipments of tobacco to England returned 
to their mother country. 

The trade became diverted to a new port, the town of Balti- 
more, not so old but growing mightily and reaching out greedy hands in 
every direction for trade. 

A town with warehouses and shippers of its own, some native 
Americans, some Scotch and Irish and German settlers who were keen 
enough to see the future that lay here. 

A town that once the revolution was over and the seas were 
free had ships sailing to ports all over the world. Truly a more formid- 
able rival than Annapolis had ever been. 


Also the law against throwing out of ballast had not stemmed 
the dwindling tide of the river upon which Elkridge depended for its 

Silt brought down by freshet from the ran idly clearing farm 
lands above added its nenace to the sand and gravel ballast. 

The willows began, to spring up, began their stealthy march 
upon the water and the once busy port of Elkridge landing massed into 
history leaving but meagre data of its once busy mart. Today there are 
no relics of its taverns for the accomodation of t5>e drivers; of its 
stables for the keep of their horse; of its tobacco ivarehouse wherein 
were deposited the immense hogsheads of tobacco and later flour from the 
successful mills of the fillicott brothers; of the Wharves; of the scales 
rovided by the act of Assembly no vestige remains. 

J. D, Iv'arfield in "Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard 
Counties" says "-Ulk Ridge landing could have had no artists, else they 
would have left a picture of the impromptu gatherings at our early -Glk 
Ridge Landing; of the vessels; of the wharves; of the old houses now lost 
to us." Some landmarks, however, remain. Its founder built his house 
upon a rock upon a hill which the floods cannot dostroy. Altho his forge 
Avalon has been washed away, his home "Belmont" stands as a monument to 
the deceased town and to the "rich iron merchant of Elk Ridge". 

The history of JSlk Ridge landing can be narrowed down to a 
single question, i.e. -ill Baltimore or J^lkridge be the important city of 

Elkridge, as it is now known, answered the Question when s* 
pushed the waters of the Patapsco away. 



JOHN •Dc/tSsf 

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master ^ v?Gn n ET«r 

, pen renamed »no 
h9Ve since "been 



I -ia. . Directory 1878 

Md. Directory 1880 

Rent Rolls of Anne Arundel County 

J. D. WarfieM "founders of Anne Arundel County" 

Isohel Davidson. "Real Stories from Baltimore County History" 

E. E. Lantz "The Spirit of Maryland" 

Md. Historical Magazine - 1921, 1926 (vol. 16, 21) 

Balto. Municipal Journal, Feb. 6, 1931 

Newspaper article, Sunday Sua, Sept. 5, 1926 

Maryland Gazette (vol. 16) May 27, 1729, and 1745 

Calvert Papers 

Scharf 's Baltimore City County History 

L. A. Bo lander "Ghost Towns and Ships of Md." 

Colonial Mansions of liarylend, J. M. Haimond 

Maryland and its resources, J. H. W. Staff 

Manufactures in Md. Spence TG 9727, M3M4 

Md. Verticle Hie - Elkridge (Enoch Pratt)